The Oscar Goes to — Israel's Dirty Laundry

Documentaries Expose Very Different Flaws of Jewish State

Disturbing Documentaries: ‘The Gatekeepers’ is an unnerving movie because it’s not Israel’s enemies who are calling for changes in how the country does business. It’s those at the very heart of the Jewish State’s security apparatus.
Disturbing Documentaries: ‘The Gatekeepers’ is an unnerving movie because it’s not Israel’s enemies who are calling for changes in how the country does business. It’s those at the very heart of the Jewish State’s security apparatus.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published January 28, 2013, issue of January 25, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

This is a big year for Israel at the Oscars. After a half-century of snubs and near-misses, Israel’s film industry stands its best chance ever of taking home the statuette. Of the five best documentary nominees, two are Israeli.

Unfortunately, many Israelis aren’t celebrating. Both nominees are about Israeli-Palestinian relations, and both make Israel look very bad. An Oscar for either one would be a tribute to Israeli art, but a black eye for Israel.

I know what you’re thinking: Those Hollywood liberals wouldn’t nominate an Israeli film unless it bashed Israel. Well, surprise: Of the 10 Israeli films previously nominated, not one focused on Israel’s flaws. The earliest were typical fare: war, crime and romance. The most recent explored the fog of war through a soldier’s eyes, depicted clan feuds in Jaffa’s Arab slums and told of rival Talmud professors. It’s only this year that Oscar examines Israel’s warts. Why? Because that’s what’s on Israelis’ minds.

One current nominee, “5 Broken Cameras,” shows Palestinians in the West Bank village of Bil’in protesting the Israeli security barrier bisecting their fields. It’s told via one villager’s home videos, edited by an Israeli filmmaker. It stars the cameraman’s toddler son, growing up amid tear gas and rubber bullets while the village’s farmland recedes before Israeli settler housing.

The other, “The Gatekeepers,” consists of interviews with the last six directors of the Shin Bet, Israel’s feared internal security service. While the camera cuts from talking heads to stock news footage, the interviewees discuss their battles with terrorists, the moral dilemmas of ordering assassinations and abusive interrogation, and Israel’s intractable confrontation with Palestinian nationalism.

Both films are painful to watch, but for my money, “The Gatekeepers” is much harder. True, the villagers in “5 Broken Cameras” tell a wrenching story of army repression and encroaching occupation. But the film never shows the Israeli side, doesn’t discuss the corrosive impact of Palestinian terrorism, never asks what Israel’s alternatives are. It’s all too easy to dismiss.

“The Gatekeepers” isn’t so easy. The narrators aren’t hostile critics accusing Israelis of abuse — they’re Israelis freely admitting abuse. And not just any Israelis — they’re the heads of Israel’s internal security apparatus. Not one or two disgruntled retirees, but every living ex-Shin Bet director.

Yes, they say, we abused suspects and killed bystanders. Our job was to stop terrorists, and we did. But they insist Israel has another option. It can extricate itself from the endless cycle of terrorism and repression by negotiating peace with the Palestinians and ending its occupation of the West Bank.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.